A number of factors appear to be moving markets around on Thursday. In addition to the usual rumors of a “large seller” hitting the sell button, there are at least two developments that are getting a lot of attention:
1) Richard Fisher, the head of the Dallas Federal Reserve, said early Thursday that the Fed may start raising rates in the spring of 2015—earlier than most expected. Of course he is a hawk, but the comments were widely passed around, and he seems to be getting a bit louder as he gets closer to stepping down next April.
In particular, Fisher said “We’re beginning to see extreme risk taking in the junk bond markets.” Not surprisingly, high yield exchange-traded funds (ETFs) like the iShares High Yield ETF and the SPDR High Yield ETF are down about a half-percent (very large decline for a bond fund) on heavy volume.
Those “sooner rather than later”-style comments are also weighing on Emerging Markets, which are very interest rate sensitive. There is heavy volume in the iShares Emerging Markets ETF, which is down two percent, and single country emerging market ETFs like Turkey, or India.
2) There are vague reports the Russian government may enact a law to seize foreign assets on Russian territory, likely in response to Western sanctions. Italian tax police seized property belonging to Arkady Rotenberg, a longtime ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, earlier this week.
Why is this important? Europe is already in a period of flat growth, despite keeping rates low. Any escalation of the tensions could throw Europe into negative growth and, down the road, back into recession.That is the main issue.
The German market weakened when that story first came out at before the Wall Street opened for business, but the slide really accelerated after the opening bell.
There are other issues that may also be playing into the decline, including the continuing strength in the dollar (bad news for exporters), and the fact that trader participation is much lighter due to the Rosh Hoshana holiday.
Despite the concerns, bear in mind that the rise in the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), at 15.8, is still relatively muted. My rule of thumb is it starts to get important when this goes over 20, which hasn’t happened since February.